When I have a panic attack, I feel helpless and terrified. It’s difficult to know what to do during a panic attack, especially because completing even the simplest tasks feels like my head might explode. Learning to cope has been a messy process, but over time, I have gotten better at it.
What to Do During a Panic Attack
I’d like to share what has worked for me so that you can have some tools to try out the next time you spiral. Here are 3 simple ideas that have helped me survive my panic attacks.
- Focus on your breath. Because panic attacks can cause hyperventilation, slowing down and deepening your breathing is both physically and emotionally grounding. A good practice is to think of the number “1” as you inhale and think of the number “2” as you exhale. I can’t think straight until I have better control over my breath. I like to imagine breathing out badness and breathing in goodness.
- Don’t run from your emotions. My instinct is often to numb my anxiety, but that usually lengthens the duration of the panic attack. The anxiety wants to be heard, and if I don’t listen, it will make me listen. Sitting in my discomfort is, well, uncomfortable, but it works wonders in calming me down. I’m able to observe what I’m really feeling.
- Repeat affirmations to yourself. These don’t have to be anything fancy or planned ahead of time. I like to remind myself of “truths” that anxiety makes me doubt: I am loved. I am kind. I am strong. I am worthy of belonging. I repeat these aloud to myself, albeit through tears and choppy breaths, but saying them aloud reminds me that I am more than my anxiety.
Learn to Trust Yourself
I never know when a panic attack will ambush me–I could be at school, driving a car, at the grocery store, or in bed. I might not always have a friend to be there with me. Sometimes, I don’t have my phone on me and I can’t listen to my favourite music. Learning coping skills that only require myself has given me power over my anxiety. I trust myself more. And, remarkably, my panic attacks don’t feel quite as crippling as they used to.